Friday, February 7, 2014

Updates on The Master

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

I've heard from Stu Fine at Denon. My proposal to reissue The Master with never before heard, very historic alternate takes is moving up the corporate chain of command. I hope to have some substantive progress to report in the next few weeks.

It turns out that I have only four alternates, not five: Bossallegro, Rue Serpente, and two of Enchilada Baby. On Pepper's cassette, Lovers of Their Time is denoted as a second take. That's what led me to believe I had a fifth alternate. Some research at Denon will hopefully turn up the first take, but I suspect it's incomplete. 

Fortunately, all four alternates on Pepper's cassette are complete performances. They're really superb and the sound is well preserved. I'm eager for you to hear them. Any of the alternates would've worked on the original Muse release with an edit or two. Pepper and Mraz are flawless throughout. A faster version of Enchilada is done; cool to hear. It's kind of amazing that they nailed Chelsea Bridge and My Shining Hour in one take. Just another indication of this outstanding band's very high level of musicianship.

Flanagan and Mraz were Pepper's absolute favorites on their respective instruments. To my knowledge, Pepper never had the opportunity to play with all three of his favorite rhythm section musicians at the same time, even on a gig. To hear this rhythm section as a unit, you'd need to check out the 1978 recording Confirmation, Flanagan's date for Enja.

Who was Pepper's favorite drummer?  Elvin Jones, of course. Pepper always tried to hire Elvin for his dates as a leader. By the 1970s Jones toured quite a bit and spent a lot of time in Japan. Because of that, starting in the late 1970s drummer Billy Hart became Pepper's second choice. Hart wasn't available for The Master, so Pepper hired Leroy Williams, a drummer who was working at the time with Barry Harris. Pepper had recently gigged with Williams in Kansas City. 

Frankly, I'm surprised that Pepper didn't hire Mel Lewis for his final stretch of dates as a leader. They were very close musical associates and their collaboration started in the Kenton band in 1956. Apart from their work with Thad Jones (in the big band and in the Thad-Pepper Quintet) a Jimmy Witherspoon date in c. 1966, and a 1979 project with Helen Merrill and Dick Katz, Pepper only recorded with Mel Lewis while they were both on the West Coast in 1956-57. Kind of curious. Any thoughts on that? Am I forgetting anything? After twelve years with Thad-Mel, maybe Pepper wanted a break? Perhaps he thought using Mel would interfere with him forging a new identity as a "single?"

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